“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
When I was about six years old, I have one of my first vivid memories of falling in love with a book. I’m sure I had others I loved before that, but the one that stands out in memory for me is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I remember both of my parents taking turns reading it to me. The magic of the tales swept me away and I remember being eager to devour the rest of the series as well.
About a year later there was the first written mention of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Author.
Though my writing dreams aren’t quite so big anymore (or at least I’ve realized I might need a day job too), I have lived my life indebted to writers who inspired me to want to create. Lewis was one of the very first. I would go on in university to take a course about him and study more of his works in depth. But others followed, namely J.K. Rowling, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Which is why one of the best places that Emily could possibly visit in the U.K. is… Oxford.
For any who don’t know, two professors there were Lewis and Tolkien, both of whom were part of a writing group called the Inklings. From what I learned on my tour, Rowling also visited Oxford and liked it, but didn’t get in. However, parts of Harry Potter were shot on parts of campus, so it still has a bit of Rowling tucked away in certain places.
Therefore, it was the most perfect location a nerd like me could hope to visit.
I arrived about midafternoon. I checked into my hostel: Oxford Central Backpackers. It is beautifully centrally located and has a very small homey feeling, which was very nice and made it easier to meet people. It was a bit run down in places, but all in all for the price I was quite pleased.
From there I set out to get to Christ Church College.
If you didn’t read my Cambridge post, let me explain. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge both have several different colleges as a part of them. Therefore, if you want to visit “Oxford” you’ll have to pick a college that you want to see and go from there. I’d do some research before going, or maybe see if you can get a guided tour or something and see more than one. But the main thing you should know is that you’ll have to pay to see anything other than the outside.
Sad but true.
Christ Church College is famous because it has a few locations used in the filming of Harry Potter. For example, see this staircase that was featured in movie one when they are about to enter the great hall. Or the cloisters, or even the Great Hall which was used to inspire the one in Hogwarts. So yes, all in all quite cool to see. It’s a beautiful university, so not a bad thing to just see on its own merit too, but yes be warned you’ll have to deal with people with wands and robes pushing past you for pictures.
After that it was off towards the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.
Wow, quite the mouthful. Nonetheless I had a reason I wanted to see it. Or well…I thought I did.
I’d combed through websites to find out what the best C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien things were to see in Oxford. Turns out, next to the church there is a door that is called “the Narnia Door”. There is a lion’s face and there are two fauns crouching on either side. So yes, quite Narnia like in some ways.
I snapped a picture of that and glanced in the church before ducking over to the Bodleian Library.
Now, the website for the library is a mess. It is very unclear about times and access and the like. Or at least I had very little luck with it. In fact, going in I was certain you could just waltz into the library at any time for free.
Nope. You have to have a tour.
So if you’re going to Oxford and want to see this library, make sure you check first thing for the tours and see what is offered. I ended up on a mini tour, because that was all that was left for the day. So if you want more get there early or make a booking or something.
Regardless I was taken into the Divinity School first, where they shot the dancing lessons scene in Harry Potter, and then up to the library that inspired the restricted section in movie one. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed in the upper section, so I’ll leave this link here for you to check out images on your own.
It’s a gorgeous library, and well worth a look even if you’re not an HP fan. I certainly enjoyed the tour, even if it was short and lacking photography opportunities.
I walked around Oxford a bit, just enjoying the various sights. I think Cambridge might be more beautiful as a whole, but Oxford still is lovely to see.
After that I headed over to the more modern library that I had been recommended to visit. This one is free, or at least the ground floor is open to the public. You can waltz in, eat at the café, stop in the shop, and glance at the exhibitions they have going. I’m all for free stuff, especially libraries, so this was great for me.
I snapped a few nerdy pictures in the treasury, showing some of the exciting works they had on display. The Magna Carta, a first folio, some first edition poems and letters and other fun works. Very interesting to be sure. Sounds like they swap out what is displayed regularly, so you might have something different if you stop by. I definitely recommend it though.
After that I was getting hungry so I decided to have a treat that I’d been waiting to have for a while. Afternoon tea.
I really enjoy a good cup of tea. One of my friends dragged me tea tasting over the summer and I about died of joy. Honestly, give me tea any day over alcohol. Or coffee. That works too.
I settled for having tea at the café of the church I’d stopped by earlier. They had a lovely garden area and it was a sunny day. So I grabbed a pot of tea for one and a scone with clotted cream and raspberry jam. My mouth is watering again just writing about it.
After enjoying the refreshments and sunshine, I finally headed off again.
I stopped by Magdalen College to peek inside, for a fee of a few pounds of course. It was one of the colleges Lewis taught at, and one where Oscar Wilde attended for a bit, though neither was mentioned in the pamphlet I received. Still, it was fun to walk the halls of a place where Lewis once taught, and it’s a very pretty school in itself.
Again, do your research on which ones you want to visit. I wish I’d done a little more before going.
I stopped in a shop to buy an indulgent Oxford sweatshirt for myself, before setting off to walk around a bit more.
I walked past Merton and Pembroke colleges, both of which Tolkien taught at at different points in his life. And then I decided I had to make the nerdy adventure to last a lifetime. I wanted to visit two more sights of the famous authors.
I initially had hoped to visit both of their graves. But I found out sadly that they’re buried a ways out of Oxford center (about 3 miles in opposite directions), so that was unhelpful without a car and with no desire to figure out buses. So I settled for closer sights.
One was The Eagle and Child. Or… as it was known by the Inklings, the Bird and the Baby.
I didn’t go inside, so I have no advice to any thinking of eating there, but I did stop to at least see it. For those who are lost, again this was the place that Lewis and Tolkien met with their writing group known as the Inklings. The place those Narnia stories began to first be developed. The place Tolkien exhausted the group with tales of Lord of the Rings, where member Hugo Dyson would end up exclaiming “Oh god, no more elves!” (I’ve seen variants on this quote…so no clue what is truly accurate, but the sentiment remains the same) to a point where Tolkien stopped reading his works at the meetings.
Regardless, it’s famed for these two writers, so I had to see it. After that it was on to a ridiculous point indeed.
20 Northmoor road.
This is the home, or rather was the home of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s about a mile away from the center, and there was supposed to be a blue plaque there. I thought I’d get a selfie with it for fun. However, after walking well over a mile, I was surprised because couldn’t find the plaque anywhere. My stomach sank and part of me worried the house had been demolished.
As it turned out I wasn’t looking in the right place. Once I looked up I saw it.
It was on the wall of the house. Very far away from where I could stand. And again, as it was merely a private residence and not a museum, I of course couldn’t traipse up the steps to get closer.
Which is why all I have is a grainy photo of the blue plaque.
So for fellow Tolkien fans, don’t waste your time going to his house. There is nothing to see. Even his grave is probably more interesting (I believe he and his wife are buried under Elvish names from what I know).
So I hobbled back into town to try to find food.
Everywhere that looked decent was super full. Anything that was more empty worried me about not being good. So I decided I’d just save my time and money and grab fast food Asian. I was a bit pissed off last trip when someone laughed at me for having Asian food in Scandinavia. So again let me reiterate that sometimes choosing food is about convenience, price, and availability and not being a well cultured person. I had chances to sample British food, and did, but for once it was nice to take a break and save some money while getting some rice and veggies into my body instead. You can travel how you like, but for me I don’t have to eat local food every single night I’m traveling.
Anyhow, after that it was back to my hostel for the night. I was decently warm by the time I arrived back, so it was nice to shower and change into my really light pajamas. For any staying in hostels I highly advise bringing really lightweight sleep clothes, as lots of bodies in one room tends to warm it up nicely.
However, when I got back to my room I was startled to find a heater sitting in the middle.
No one was in there at the moment, so I definitely stared at it and muttered “who the heck is cold!?!” and then went to my bed shaking my head in disbelief.
Well it turned out there were two older women from Florida backpacking around England, and they apparently were freezing so had asked for a heater to be brought into their room.
I thought to myself “couldn’t you just put on extra layers and ask for more blankets?” but instead I let it go, just feeling grateful when they turned it off before bedtime. I do wonder how they survived when they got up to Scotland, but no matters.
Ah the joys of hosteling! Did get good travel and some job advice from them though, so no complaints in the long run.